An attempt to “pray away the gay” has tragic consequences.
Will Dillard has a secret. It’s not that he’s gay; that’s no secret at all, not anymore. It’s that he spent one summer at Camp Levi, an institution devoted to “curing” teenage boys of their homosexuality. The program was a combination of Scripture and abuse, and Will’s time there came to an abrupt and horrifying end when a camper disappeared. Having left home for college—and, later, graduate school—he’s still haunted by his past, but it’s a past he has no intention of sharing with anyone. Then that terrible summer at Camp Levi becomes the basis for a slasher movie, and Will learns that he’ll never escape. An email from one of the former counselors involved in the making of the film sends him back to Mississippi looking for answers and a sense of closure. First-time novelist White has the makings of a great book, but his work shows some of the weaknesses common to debuts. There are episodes that are simply impossible to believe, such as the one in which Will climbs under his desk during a panic attack and neither of his fellow teaching assistants, with whom he shares a cramped office, notices. There are also problems of structure and style. It makes perfect psychological sense that Will would want to keep the details of an traumatic adolescent experience from the lovers and friends he’s met since leaving home, but, as a narrative device, his reticence is frustrating. There’s a lack of definition; it feels like White hasn’t quite decided which story he’s going to tell. The whole novel is, of course, Will’s story, but it’s Camp Levi that makes his story singular, and the author takes his time getting there. Much of the novel is taken up with Will’s road trip and with scenes from his life just before he begins conversion therapy. The writing, for the most part, is perfunctory, so plot is the pull here, but the pace is too slow to be satisfying.
A fascinating subject rendered in disappointing prose.